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Episode 76: Irreverent Warrior Danny Maher, Founder of VET Tv

Ep. 76: Irreverent Warrior Danny Maher, Founder of VET Tv

Episode Description

In our latest episode of the Veteran Led Podcast, we’re joined by a remarkable guest who’s making waves in the Veteran community. Danny Maher, a multi-faceted entrepreneur and author, shares his inspiring journey and mission to support fellow Veterans.

Danny, the creative force behind Irreverent Warriors, VET Tv, and the author of a candid military memoir, discusses his innovative approach to addressing Veteran mental health. He reveals the origins of the popular Silkies Hike events, designed to foster camaraderie and combat Veteran suicide through unconventional means.

Our conversation delves into Danny’s vision for a more inclusive and healthier veteran culture. With raw honesty, he sheds light on the often-overlooked experiences of combat Veterans, challenging societal perceptions and advocating for better understanding.

The discussion then shifts to Danny’s groundbreaking media venture, VET Tv. He explains how this unique platform uses humor to create relatable content for the combat Veteran audience, addressing both praise and criticism of his work.

Looking ahead, Danny offers a tantalizing preview of his upcoming book. This new work promises to explore the complex psychology of American Veterans, exploring concepts like warrior identity and ego, and examining how military service shapes mental health and personal relationships.

Listeners interested in supporting Veteran causes or experiencing authentic, Veteran-centric entertainment are encouraged to explore Irreverent Warriors’ initiatives and VET Tv’s programming. For those intrigued by Danny’s personal experiences, his published memoir provides an unfiltered look into military life.

Join us for this eye-opening conversation that challenges conventional wisdom and offers fresh perspectives on Veteran issues and support.

Transcript from July 2, 2024

Irreverent Warrior: Danny Maher, Founder of VET Tv

John Berry: This episode of Veteran Led contains language and content not suitable for all audiences. In fact, if you reach the rank of above E-7 or above O-3, this probably won’t resonate with you. However, at Veteran Led, we believe in telling the stories of veterans, and we believe in diversity of thought and celebrating that diversity.

Danny Maher: I just wanted them to feel understood, to be like, man, this guy wrote a book that encapsulates my experience as a junior enlisted. This guy nailed my experience to the tee, and he was an officer, and I wanted them to feel like, yeah, somebody had the balls to say it. Yes. And I knew that I was doing so at the risk of job opportunities. Of people questioning my sanity and, um, of completely losing the respect and acceptance of the Officer Corps. I knew those risks coming in, too. I knew that officers would shun my book forever.

John Berry: Welcome to the Veteran Led podcast, where we talk with leaders who use their military experiences to develop great organizations and continue to serve their communities. Today’s guest is Danny Maher. Danny is the founder of Irreverent Warriors and the author of “Embarrassing Confessions of a Marine Lieutenant: Operation Branding Iron 2.1A.” Danny, welcome to the show.

Danny Maher: Thank you so much for having me, John, I appreciate you.

John Berry: Well, I appreciate everything that you’ve done. As a fellow Infantry lieutenant, even though I was Army, uh, so much. Yeah, so much rings true. And who has bigger guns? I, uh, so much rings true. What you say? Okay. But as you know. Well, you’ve got great abs because I’ve seen you on some of the hikes, but thanks. As you know, um, your message is not to the senior officers. It’s not to tell the war story that we see in books or in movies, but to tell it as it is, as it’s experienced by those junior officers or those junior leaders that you’re interacting with daily, whether they are officers or junior enlisted, and the things that they’re experiencing, the world that they’re experiencing, and more importantly, you’re giving it back to them in a way that makes it acceptable. Um, and you’ve seen the struggle, uh, tell us how you got involved in this line of work. Obviously, you wanted to be an actor, a writer. You created a TV network, VET Tv.

Danny Maher: So, it started when I began my journey to be a writer, and I started a blog under the pen name Donny O’Malley, which had been my Facebook name for years. It was just a nickname that I thought was funny. And, um, and I thought, this is a great pen name. I thought, “M-a-h-e-r” people don’t understand the background. They never pronounce it right. But Donny O’Malley, that’s a sick pen name. So that’s what I’m writing under. And then my first book was going to be about some of my college stories. Um, or my trip to Africa, which I did right after the Marine Corps. I volunteered at an orphanage, climbed Kilimanjaro, went scuba diving, and I’m like, that’s the first one. But my ex-girlfriend at the time really pushed me to write my Marine Corps stories first. And so I did, and the book was basically done. And then a month before I published, my friend and biggest supporter of my book, because I had been sharing my stories with him, he killed himself. And, um, and that was the first two I’d heard of suicides before, but none of them really affected me. That was the first time it affected me in a big way. And so, um, when at his wake, his mom was crying over the casket and she was just screaming, why, why, why? And I’m just, like, crying to myself. And I’m like, well, maybe I could give her his mother a reason why. And I kind of honestly said that to myself, just to make myself feel better in the moment.

Danny Maher: I was like, maybe I could give his mother a reason why. Maybe he died so that others could live right, and that it was really just to make me feel better in that moment. But when I went home and googled veteran suicide, I saw that, you know, 22 a day and I’m like, whoa, I didn’t know this. What the hell? Um, and I just started doing research into veteran suicide, and, and then I talked to a bunch of guys about it, and all of a sudden, like, everyone knows somebody who’s killed themselves. I was like, Jesus. Um, and so I, I’d been throwing I’d been like, the social chair of my group of friends since I was 17, 16, maybe. And I thought, why don’t I get a group of guys that I went to war with together? Let’s just get together and have a good time. And that first event was the first Silkies Hike ever. And I thought it would be like 12 of us, like who were in Fox Company. Boom. Right there. Right? But 75 people showed up every branch of service, men and women. And it was because we got some press. Um, and after the fact, people kept coming up to me saying that was one of the best days I’ve had in years. I can’t remember the last time I felt so accepted and so included and so understood. Those are the exact words they used, accepted, included, understood. Thank you so much for doing this. And I was like, oh f***, I didn’t think, I didn’t know it was going to have that kind of impact. These other veterans across the country, um, one of them actually, another, uh, lawyer, Marine Corps veteran named Mark Metzger, um, he actually created the first event in Houston, Texas, and he invited me. He said, yo, dude, I saw your article in The Times. I think it’s incredible. I’m doing your event. I copied and pasted your Facebook event. I would love to have you here and, um, host you. I’ll get you a hotel room. You just get out here and you come talk to the press and give a speech to these people, because you started this thing and I think it’s amazing. It’s going to be great. I was like, how can I say no to that? So, I show up, 275 veterans show up to that thing, right? Like I had 75 two weeks later in Houston. 275. That was incredible. That event was almost identical to the first in terms of the way all of these veterans connected and talked, and they were excited and they’re drinking, and some guys are crying, you know, getting their war stories out, like all this sh** they hadn’t really emotions they hadn’t processed. They felt comfortable enough. I mean, with booze processing that sh** with this group of guys. And then, um, more cities, Atlanta and somewhere in Illinois and bam, bam, bam, I’m going to all these events.

Danny Maher: I’m flying out because I was medically retired. Um, and I’m like, well, I can’t deny this special thing that’s happening. So, I’m going to continue going to this and exploring it. And I was having a blast because I was meeting all these veterans who, you know, anyone who’s attracted to the idea of a Silkies Hike is attracted to the idea of laughing and having fun and being silly and connecting with other veterans. So like, it was a great vibe. And then I eventually decided to create a headquarters element to create standards, SOPs for safety. And because we’re like drinking, walking through streets and sh** and I’m like, dude, it’s just a matter of time before someone gets hit by a car, you know, like, we gotta we gotta work with the cities, get permits, get police escorts. And that’s what we did. And I hit people up. I said, hey, I want I’m creating headquarters element. Would you like to be a part of it? And everyone’s like, f*** yeah. Um, and then, you know, now, was it ten, almost ten years later? You know, it was like 120,000 veterans have been to our events and it’s remarkable. And we’ve tried to weed alcohol out of the culture, because alcohol is the root of so many problems in the veteran community. And so, we’re trying to create a more healthy culture, more inclusive, instead of being all these f***ing bros. You know, it started out with a lot of Infantry bros, Infantry frat bros, slamming beers and f***ing, you know, elbowing each other and sh**.

Danny Maher: And we’re like, okay, that’s cool for some of those bros, but it’s not cool for all of the other people who served, who did other jobs, who aren’t that way. And we need a more inclusive environment. And, um, and that’s probably what I’m most proud of is, is working with the leadership of the organization, Cindy McNally and Nate McDonald to, um, to change the culture, to have to create an environment that is better for mental health, an environment that facilitates, um, more expressions of kindness and love and acceptance to each other, which is polar opposite of military culture. It’s not warrior culture. Um, and what that’s done is that’s given people a vision of what it looks like and what it feels like to be around a bunch of nice people who will accept you for who you are and who want you to succeed. And that vibe that people experience at one of those events, it changes their perspective on life, and that’s why they’re so impactful, because a lot of veterans, they just get out and they’re just chugging booze, going to the bar, and hanging out with the biker guys, and it’s all tough guy sh**. And like, those guys aren’t happy. Those dudes, their lives are not sick as f***. And we want everyone to have a great life. So, we need to change culture in order to do that.

John Berry: And you’ve done that. And I can remember the first time I heard about it at the time, we had about 20 Marines on our team at Berry Law, and they were all about the Silkies Hike that was coming. And, John, we need to sponsor this. We need to be involved. And I was like, well, what is this? You know, it’s like, well, we wear the silkies, we drink some beer, and we talk, but basically, we get to reunite, and we get to, it’s helping veterans. I said, so walking around no, no, no, this isn’t about that. This is about camaraderie. This is something that we need. And I get that right. It’s like the unit reunion. So okay, I can understand that. And so, we got involved and you know, hey, look like just to prep for the show to say like, I’m all in I, you know, I got the silkies on, you know.

Danny Maher: Yeah!

John Berry: And we even made them with our logo. We handed them out at the, at the, at the event. Let’s go. Yeah. And, uh, you know, in the Army, we call them Ranger panties. Right. But the same silkies in the Marine Corps. Whatever. But, uh, but what an inclusive, uh, group. I mean, people from all over, all walks of life. The only discriminator was you had to be a veteran to walk. You couldn’t be a spouse. You couldn’t be a friend. You couldn’t be a supporter. And we had veterans in wheelchairs, right. That had shirts on that said disabled but deadly. Right. So, they were and we had people if they weren’t electric people pushing and helping and helping other veterans get through it. But what happens when you walk together for 12, 16 miles is you start to open up and you just feel that bond. And I think that’s what happened in the Infantry. Where why we were so close because we suffered together. We spent time together. And, you know, we nobody really got offended because we would just, we would push each other. It didn’t matter where you came from. It didn’t matter your origin, your race, your religion. You were either a performer or a non-performer. That’s how you were judged. And and we had to trust the men and women to our right and our left with our lives.

John Berry: And there was just this feeling of, of camaraderie that if you’ve never served, you will never know. And so, what I love about your book is it goes deep into some dark humor that I think a lot of people would find offensive. But okay, most normal people would find offensive. But if you ever served in an Infantry unit, this is the kind of stuff that happens when you take these young 18-year-old kids, and you know and glorify killing. And they got all those hormones. And then this repressive environment where you’re expected to, you know, there’s no escapes. And it’s just it’s fight when you’re deployed, there’s not a lot of outlets. And so here they are and they’re dealing with it and they’re coping with it. And they were teaching them, you know, learn to love your job, learn to love to go after and destroy the enemy. And they learn to love it. And then when they come back, we expect to find these. pristine toy soldiers who look just like they would in Hollywood, in the movies at the end of the at the end of the movie. But there but without the scars of the experience on the inside and the trauma.

John Berry: And so, we it’s just it’s not real. It’s not real. But what you talk about in the book is very real. And, you know, even in chapter one, the must I remember the massage places, but you start off with shame, right? You hey, I’m this big, bad lieutenant. I’m going to go in there and then you leave with shame. Right? And as leaders, we felt that, you know, every day, whether it was, you know, over in the massage parlor or the porta potty, right. Part of the humor. But there’s the shame when we fail our team and how it just eats at us and, and we go from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, and we’re sharing those with our brothers and sisters. And then we come back, and nobody talks about it, and we’re too ashamed to talk about it. We’re too scared to talk about it. And the civilians we’re sitting with, don’t get it, but you shared that, and that took a lot of courage. Uh, and so, uh, you know, having been that dumb lieutenant, but thinking I’m great, like, you captured that, too. It was beautiful. Beautifully done in the book.

Danny Maher: Yes. Thank you. 

John Berry: But what I really love is the letter in the end, to the Marine Corps. This is how we fix it. Now go fix it. Why aren’t we fixing it? Yeah. So, tell us, take us through that journey as you, as you wrote the book and. And your decision to keep it that raw.

Danny Maher: The main. By the way, you got me hyped up. I haven’t read the book in a while, but just talking about it, I’m like, I want to start talking about it more. Um. The thought process was, I had read a couple of books prior to joining the Marine Corps that I loved, loved the books. Um, “Joker One” and “One Bullet Away” about Marine Infantry officers. One went recon. Loved those books. And then when I got into the Marine Corps, I met a whole bunch of–there were a bunch of captains, older guys who, um, who didn’t like the books even though everyone read them. Every Marine officer read those two books. Um, but there was a lot of resentment because the things that were written in those books, um, affected the careers of all of all the officers who were mentioned in those books. Further, after being after getting out of the Infantry. Um, I had a slightly different perspective on the books, and I realized that these guys wrote those books for the masses. They wrote them for civilians. They didn’t write those books for junior Marines. They didn’t write them for Marine Officers. They wrote those books for civilians. And then they went and got an MBA. And then, you know, doing speaking engagements and sh**. And I kind of resented the fact that. That these guys wrote a book, and I also met some of the guys that they served with, and some of the guys that they served with, um, were they didn’t dig the books that much.

Danny Maher: And I’m like, oh, that’s got to feel kind of weird to be the officer and to write this book about leadership and Marine Officership. Being a platoon leader and commander, and then you write this book for civilians that none of your Marines care about. I was like, that’s weird. Like, if I ever write a book, which I will, about my Marine Corps sh**, I’m going to write it for the guys I served with so that the junior enlisted guys pass that sh** around and be like, yo, remember Lieutenant Maher? He wrote this book and it’s f***ing hilarious, bro. You have to read it. That’s what I wanted out of my book, and that’s how I approached it. So, you don’t get the junior enlisted to say, yo, dude, you got to read this and write it the way every other officer writes books. You don’t write it that way. I wrote that book like I was trying to make my friends laugh. I wasn’t trying to get it into an MBA program. I wasn’t trying to get speaking engagements out of it and especially not speak on leadership. F*** that. I wanted junior Marines to laugh. That’s it. Well, let’s feel understood.

John Berry: And this is what drives me crazy. Why are we not focused on the junior soldiers on the front lines? These are the door kickers. These are the ones that are winning the war at the tactical level, right? I mean, are you writing for the about the strategy or the operational concerns? No. Because the team that kept you alive were those junior soldiers, the ones that, hey, as a lieutenant, they didn’t have to trust you. Most of them probably didn’t but at the end of the day, you were responsible for them. And you still feel that today. And you’ve taken charge of that feeling. And instead of writing some heady book about leadership, you’re writing about something that they can relate to because you still want to take care of your soldiers.

Danny Maher: Yeah. Yeah. I just wanted them to feel understood, to be like, man, this guy wrote a book that encapsulates my experience as a junior enlisted. This guy nailed my experience to the tee, and he was a f***ing officer. And I wanted them to feel like, yeah, somebody had the balls to f***ing say it. Yes. And I knew that I was doing so at the risk of job opportunities. Of people questioning my sanity and, um, of completely losing the respect and acceptance of the Officer Corps. I, I knew those risks coming into I knew that officers would shun my book forever, and I didn’t give a f***. Why do I give a f*** about them? I’m like, I’m. I’m starting a career as an independent artist. I’m going to write books and make short films and make television shows and make movies about my life. Why do I give a f*** about any of them? You know, it mattered nothing. Zero. Their opinions mattered so, they were so negligent to me that it’s weird to think that anyone actually cares about the Officer Corps.

John Berry: Well, and for the Officer Corps, they’re probably, if they read it or if they saw VET Tv, they’re probably like, this is the exact reason why we never should have commissioned Maher in the first place.

Danny Maher: Yes, a guy actually wrote a comment like that on my Amazon for my book. She said the Marine Corps made a mistake in commissioning this O’Malley and I screenshotted that at the back then years ago, and I posted that on my social media. And I said, I guarantee this guy’s review is going to get me tons of f***ing, uh, book purchases. Sure enough, I had like was one of the highest sales days I ever had the day I published that guy’s comment.

John Berry: And this when we look at this and then, of course, you go in, you’re going to VET Tv, which arguably is even more offensive. And, you know, the disclaimers, if you’re not a veteran, don’t just don’t watch this, please. And if you are a veteran, you’re probably not going to like it. This is more for the combat veterans, uh, with that sick sense of humor. Gallows humor is what they call it. I know that, you know, and for a lot of professions where they face trauma, gallows humor is very common. But for some reason we reject that with our veterans. And I find that the content to be on its face, people say it’s divisive, but if you look at it, it’s inclusive because we all know in the in the real military, it’s about whether you’re a performer and we don’t care about your sexual orientation, your preferences, your race, your gender. It’s we’re a team and when we come together and understand that then it all makes sense. And all the silly, idiotic things we had to do in the military. And, you know, I mean, look, everybody’s been through CIF. Everybody’s, uh, been through a chow hall, and there’s just things that resonate with everyone.

John Berry: And while the humor is take it or leave it, and some people would say, well, you know, this is over the top. It’s too much. It’s offensive. Um, you’re not writing it for them. You’re writing it for the veteran who feels disconnected, the veteran who came back, who nobody understands, who feels like I don’t have a tribe. I don’t have a mission. Where did all this go? Nobody understands me. I don’t understand why I’m acting this way, why I’m behaving this way, why I’m suffering, why I’m struggling. And you say, hey, it’s okay. There’s other people out there who have these thoughts and we’re accepting of you. We accept you for who you are. You took that oath. You raised your hand. You supported and defended the Constitution, the United States. We accept you. And yeah, there’s some sick and twisted stuff in the humor. And once again, that’s just my opinion. Now I personally don’t let anything offend me, but I understand how it could be horribly offensive to a lot of people. And so how do you deal with the critics that say you’ve crossed the line in this episode or that episode? How do you respond?

Danny Maher: I say well, in the depths of combat, anything you see on VET Tv is barely touching the surface of the jokes that we made in combat. So, what you’re seeing the the psychoness of some of this comedy, that is what the people that you support who are on the front lines defending our nation, that’s what they’re laughing about. So, if you’re trying to tell me that this is wrong, it’s like, well. This is the exact humor that we use to get through the sh**tiest parts of fighting wars and f***ing stacking bodies and stepping on skulls, watching our buddies blow up, have to pick up their guts from the ground and stuff them in our f***ing cargo pockets because we can’t leave any of our, uh, US service members body parts for the enemy to pick up and use against us. Right. Like. That’s the humor we use to get through that sh**. So. You. What are you. Are you telling us that we are wrong for having this humor? You know, like, it just means they’re naive. And. And every time someone comes at me with some bullsh** like that, it’s an opportunity for me to educate them and let them know what it’s like on the front lines of war, because they have no clue. They have no clue that these guys in the dress blue uniforms looking perfect in the commercials, you know, might be working on an oil rig if they weren’t on the front lines. Like, these are heavy, blue-collar guys. Old school blue-collar coming from homes where their drunk dads beat the f*** out of them, and they just want blood. That’s all they want. And that makes them happy. And you need that on the front lines. Because the enemy, our enemies, want blood too. And we need to want it worse. If we’re going to kill the animals, we need to become the animals. And that’s just how it goes. So, if you want us to continue defending the nation, then quit your f***ing b****ing and make an attempt to understand the psyche of American veterans, the psyche of combat veterans and front-line war fighters. Understand the psyche before you judge. Ask questions before you judge. That’s what I tell them. And they usually shut the f*** up and go away.

John Berry: And to be and to be fair. Not every veteran shares that psyche. In fact, in the book you talk about your battalion commander, who clearly did not share that psyche. But because he didn’t share that psyche, he also was detached from the soldiers. You know, he wasn’t a soldier’s soldier. And so, I’m not saying you have to be sick in the head to be a good leader, but you have to be tolerant of, you know, of what those junior soldiers are going through. You have to be tolerant of what they’re experiencing, and you have to accept them as human beings. As I read deeper into your works, this is really about acceptance. This is about accepting people for who they are. You have gone somewhere where most authors and veterans are scared to go. And it takes guts to do that. Have you seen any authors follow your footsteps and try to capture similar emotions and depth of feelings?

Danny Maher: Um. Uh, kind of. I remembered seeing. I need to research it again. I remembered finding some other books that were some somewhere along the lines of not quite “Embarrassing Confessions,” but they’re trying to make light of their experiences in combat. I read some of them, and, uh, they didn’t take it nearly as far as me. Like, not even close. And one of them, I forget this guy. He was like a combat engineer. I think he was a Marine combat engineer. And he tells this story of like seeing this, what he thinks might be an enemy combatant on a hill, and he thinks that the guy’s spotting him and might have a rifle on him. And he says, I thought to myself. Don’t do it, buddy. Don’t lift the rifle. I don’t want to have to kill you. But I will if I have to. And I was just like, what kind of b****a** sh** is that? Every Marine I’ve ever come into contact with would be salivating where they’d go, please, please, please show me your rifle. Please show me your rifle so that I can get my kill.

Danny Maher: You know, like that’s real. Salivating at the thought of killing this man. And this guy’s like, oh, I don’t want to do it, but I will if I have to. Get the f*** out of here. That’s such weak. That pisses me off. It’s not real. It’s fake. It’s for the civilians. Because he doesn’t want to lose job opportunities. Because he doesn’t want someone when he goes for a job interview to say, I read your book. And this. Did you really want to kill this man that bad? Right? Like that’s what he was afraid of. But I knew I’m going to be an entrepreneur for the rest of my life. I don’t no one’s going to hire me. I don’t give a f*** about being hired. So, it was easy. There was never I never. I appreciate your kind words. I never thought it was brave or I’m just like, no, this is my life. No, I’m never applying for a job. That was my goal. I will make money by creating value and selling it. So, it’s easy to just tell the truth.

John Berry: And as we speak, you’re getting ready to do that again. Could you give us a sneak peek into your next book?

Danny Maher: Yes. Okay, so my next book is called “The Psyche of Some American Veterans.” And, I mean, that describes what it is I was initially going to call it “The Psyche of the American Veteran.” But then I thought, um. It’s kind of arrogant of me to think that I’m going to write a book that speaks to every American veteran, so let me let me tweak that. Some American veterans, so some American veterans will read the book and they will say. Holy sh**. He nailed it, right? Not all. Some. And a lot of what we’re going to talk about is a lot of what we talked about today, which is, um, about warrior identity, warrior ego, and how our military experience rewires our brains a little bit, um, and how some of that rewiring can help us be incredibly successful. But some of that rewiring can be a barrier to, um, feeling love and joy and happiness as often as we would like. And I’ll dive into why in each part of the military experience, starting with boot camp, when you’re told in boot camp that it’s no longer about you, there is no more “I,” right? You are no longer an individual. Uh, have bearing. Don’t show your emotions. Doesn’t matter what you’re feeling. Don’t show it. Have bearing. Um. No one gives a f*** about what you have to say. Just do your job. They take away your individuality, your freedom of expression and your personality.

Danny Maher: They make you put a governor on your personality. All of those things are good for creating warriors, but those are not good things for mental health. If you want good mental health, you should not have a governor on all of your emotions all the time. You shouldn’t have bearing all the time. You should feel free to cry intensely if you feel that. You should feel free to laugh and be as happy as a little kid. You should feel that. The governor is not healthy. Um, you also have less empathy for yourself, right? They’d say, f*** your feelings. Your feelings don’t matter. Okay. Well, it’s great for being a war fighter. It’s not great for being a husband or for being a dad or for being a friend. F*** your feelings is terribly damaging to relationships. It’s a barrier to love. Right? When you can’t feel your own feelings because you shut them down in the military. Because you’re constantly being yelled at and, you know, told you’re a piece of sh** and you know, you’re even once you get to the fleet, you’re f***ing up your job and you’re a boot and a new grunt unit every day you’re being reminded that you suck, right? You have to shut your own feelings off, because otherwise you’re just going to feel like sh** all the time. So, you shut it off. If you shut your feelings off, well, you’re not feeling what anyone else is feeling either. So, you don’t have empathy for other people.

Danny Maher: You can’t feel what they’re feeling. And that is a massive barrier to connection and to love. So, when you have less connection and less love, you feel more lonely. When you feel more lonely, you are more depressed. When you are more depressed, you have less energy. You have less motivation, less dopamine, less happiness. And your quality of your life continuously degrades until you make a change. That is the path to suicide. Okay, so I break down the ways in which we’ve been rewired. How military culture in general is very hard on you. There’s a lot of lying in military culture, a lot of infidelity, that’s just accepted. And when that carries over into the civilian world, that’s going to hurt your ability to have healthy relationships with friends, family and loved ones. And so, if I can explain in a very clear, succinct way. All of these little things that we’ve experienced that have changed the way our minds work. Then I can get veterans. I can unravel a decade of of f***ing I can. This is what I’ve been told, as I’ve had these conversations with veterans over the years, that I can condense a decade of therapy into ten minutes because I can I can nail their experience and their experiences and that which lead to the way they feel and the way they think and they go, holy sh**. That makes sense. Yeah. That’s exactly what I started doing, starting with my second year in the military.

Danny Maher: And I kept doing that all the way till I lost my second marriage. That makes sense. And that’s what I want this book to do. I want this thing to cause hundreds of thousands to millions of veterans to go. Oh, f***, that makes sense. Yeah, right. And so now I’ve kind of put a kink in their engine and the brain can go, ah. Oh, okay. And then they can approach their life themselves a little bit differently. They can acknowledge these things that they’re doing and then make a decision. I can keep doing these things and allow my life to stay stagnant or continue going downhill, or I can make positive changes and then increase the quality of my life and the goal, what I want for everyone is to have the sickest f***ing life possible. Right? Like I have one of the most amazing lives I’ve ever seen. I live with so much joy and so much love on a daily basis, it’s stupid. Some people hate me for it. Like, how the f*** are you so happy? Well, here’s how. Let me show you. Okay. You can find it. Everyone can find happiness and lots of love. From friends and from family and from their significant other. You can get love anywhere, but you can feel more of that if you understand your psyche more. And that’s what this book is intended to do.

John Berry: Some of our veterans have figured it out, like, okay, yes, these are some things that I’m going to have to deal with that I took from military service that were not good. But here’s all the great stuff. I’m going to take this great stuff, and I’m going to have an amazing life because I know how to lead. I know how to work hard to get what I want, and I know how to have values and live by those values. Right? But when that’s the good stuff. But there’s a lot of bad stuff, and it seems that, you know, we can look at veteran suicide and the problem and homeless veteran homelessness and some of those problems. And I, I hate that society then says, oh yeah, because all these veterans are broken. I would say, no, no, no, no, no, not everything in the military was good, but I figured out the really good things, and I am using them to build the life that I want. 

Danny Maher: Yes

John Berry: And, I imagine all the hate mail you get and how many people you’ve offended throughout the world. But I would say this, that if anyone has the right to say something offensive, whether I believe it or not, or whether I find you humorous or I find you offensive. What I do know is this: is that Danny Maher raised his hand to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, which protects our First Amendment right to freedom of speech. And while I may not agree with what you say, I will defend your right to say it to the death. You are a United States military veteran. You protected that, right? You gave all of us that right. And so, who am I to say? Well, Danny shouldn’t be able to say that stuff because it’s offensive. Because it’s divisive. Look, maybe it is. And maybe it’s horrible stuff. Maybe it’s the most egregious things that any human should ever say. But I’d rather hear that criticism from someone who took the oath and went over and did something about it, than someone who’s upset.

Danny Maher: You know, first off, thank you for all the love motivation. Um, it’s getting me super. I need to go work out again after this. Um, but I don’t get hate mail. And honestly since the very beginning. It’s been so little that I’m honestly like, are these people just pussies or do they not want to? Are they are they hesitant to come at me because I’m, you know, preventing suicide? So, they don’t want to attack a guy that’s preventing suicide, like. I don’t know what it is, but people almost never come at me. Almost ever. Not anymore anyways. In the early days. Yeah, in the early days for sure. Especially when I was dressing up as the transgender drill instructor. And they’re like, you’re representing female Marines terribly, and the Marine Corps drill instructors terribly. And I’m like, okay, this is dude, this is hilarious. Are you kidding me? This sketch is so funny. Um, but I’m also a troll, right? Like, I have a very, very good ability to shut off um, the thoughts of what other people think sometimes. Sometimes I, I mean. I’m trying to sell books, so obviously I care a little bit, you know? I’m an artist. I want you to like my art. But if you don’t, it’s like, okay, I don’t care about you. You don’t exist. It’s. And so as soon as I flip that switch, I can be a nasty troll.

Danny Maher: And I have very little shame. I’ll dress up like a woman. I’ll dress up in a tutu. I don’t give a f***. I’ll do anything. And you will be more uncomfortable than me. And so, I think people are also hesitant to come at me because they’re not going to make me feel uncomfortable. Anyone who comes at me, eventually, they’re going to regret it. If I want them to, um, because I’m willing to own all of my mistakes. Like I’ve done a lot of sick sh**, but I still don’t think I’m that sick. In my head I’m still just a goofy little kid. Like, I’m 40 years old, combat vet and sh**. But really, I’m. I think I’m like, maybe 28, like, still in the fraternity. Just want to party and have a good time. Go dancing. You know, like I my brain just kind of works different. And, um, and it’s hard for me to, to really get taken down emotionally by someone else because I’ll take myself down first and I’ll be like, you know, someone can come at me and attack me hard, and I’ll be like. Honestly, you’re right. That is true. That was sh**ty of me. Thank you for the. Thank you for the insight. I appreciate you very much. You know, they’re like, wait, what?

John Berry: Well, that’s true, and I think we beat ourselves up much worse than anybody could ever beat us up.

Danny Maher: 100%. I hate myself as much as I love myself, you know? And I think most really successful people are the same.

John Berry: Well, I’ve also noticed, at least from hearing, that you’re quite a dancer and a lot of people are hesitant to get out and dance and do things, and they’re afraid they’re going to look stupid. Right? But I think by writing the first book, you kind of got it all out of your system. Like there’s like you put you took all your shame and put it on the table and said, here’s all my shame world. See it? There’s nothing left. I can’t hide anything. It’s all that’s all I got. 

Danny Maher: Yeah. That’s so funny. Yeah, I did, it’s like you’re never going to rip on me harder than I’m going to rip on me. So, try. And if you do rip on me and you do it well, I’m going to laugh and give you props. Awesome. Let’s go.

John Berry: Awesome I love it. Yeah. And I mean, at the end of the day, right? We don’t have to be if we don’t if we disagree, we don’t have to be enemies. Right? We’re Americans. Right? Isn’t that the whole thing? We should be able to express our opinions and, and even if we have friction, you know, we should be able to laugh and smile and enjoy life. And this is, you know, this is the land of opportunity. And when we all have opportunities, it’s great. And I think, you know, when we do laugh, especially as leaders, it can help the organization. And I think this was, you know, something that maybe didn’t get pushed hard enough in your book is the importance of humor in leadership. And when the leadership team lacks the humor, how that affects the team. Now, you just can’t be like laughing like an idiot all the time. But you know, it seems to me that, you know, at the senior leadership levels, when we can see a leader laugh, we know they’re human and we know that they understand what’s going on. I think it’s the very rigid leaders that don’t know how to use humor in leadership, that it’s frightening because they don’t seem human, they don’t seem authentic to us. But I’d love to get your take on that. Um, you know, as you, we didn’t see much from the senior leadership, and that seemed to create a distrust for you and your platoon.

Danny Maher: Uh, it’s funny you say that because, um. One of the hardest parts of being an officer for me, and a platoon commander was fighting my urge to be the class clown. Right? Like I’ve been the class clown since I was 17. But I knew because my dad was a Marine Infantry Officer and from, you know, everything I read and sh**, that that is not my job when I join the Marine Corps. I am no longer the class clown. I need to lock that sh** up. And focus on being the leader that my platoon needs me to be. Because I never came for a career. I just wanted to be a platoon commander. I wanted to go MARSOC, but I got medically retired was too weak for that. Um, and so, um. I had to fight the urge to be funny all the time and it was hard. Um. Uh, but. My platoon sergeants and my squad leaders, we laughed all the time. Not all the time. We laughed some of the time and at the appropriate times. So, I allowed them to see a bit of my humor, and I allowed them to rip on me when it was just us in closed environments, and I could rip on them, and it was all with love and respect. 

And then when I was in Afghanistan, my second platoon, there was way less love and respect there. And I accept responsibility for that because honestly, I came into the platoon, and I thought they were, a lot of them were real sh**bags and it f***ing pissed me off. And I think they felt that I f***ing. I hated some of them, honestly, and I’m ashamed of that. I should not have felt that way. I should have been bigger than that. But I hated some of them because they didn’t take training seriously. I was like, you motherf***ers, we’re going to war in less than six months. You’re not taking this sh** seriously, so I f***ing. I ran the dog sh** out of him, and they did not like me until we were in Afghanistan. And then as the fire support team later, my job was to to drop bombs and, um, you know, everyone loves the FiST because you’re in a f***ing firefight and the FiST drops bombs and fixes sh**. And then I started repairing my relationships with the platoon, who, they weren’t my guys anymore, it was weapons, so they got farmed out to the platoons.

Danny Maher: And then, um, I was able to bring some of that humor back. And it did make a difference to your point, like I was not. There was no humor in me when I first came into that platoon in Fox Company for a while, and they just didn’t like me, and I didn’t like them. And it was terrible. It was pathetic. And then once we became close and I felt like I was doing a good job supporting us with fires in Afghanistan. Um, then I opened up a little bit more and allowed them to see my personality and my humor and my humanity, to your point. And the dynamic totally changed. It was like there was way more trust and love between us. Once I opened up a little bit and shared more of my personality, and then from then on, it was like, we’re all in the weight room together every day. Banging weights, talking about f***ing killing sh**, talking about the next mission, the last mission and what we’re going to do at home and chicks. And it was a very, very special, special experience and a humor. Humor was what opened that up. It’s a really good point.

John Berry: I think the saying is a leader is not a leader until that position is ratified in the hearts and the minds of that leader’s men. I butchered the quote, but there you go. So, once you had that humor, it was ratified that Lieutenant Maher is the leader. And, uh, not because he’s got a Silver Bar, but because he’s one of us. And so I appreciate that. Now, my favorite part. Uh, this is one that you’re going to kill. Probably best one ever After Action Review. Give me your three best examples of leadership and your three worst examples of leadership. And you don’t have to name names.

Danny Maher: Um, of myself, of my actions or other people.

John Berry: Whatever you want.

Danny Maher: Um, I’ll. I’ll go for the worst. Okay. Self-deprecate. Right. Here we go. Um, worst examples of leadership? Um, I would say. When the nonprofit had been going, this is 2018, I believe. So, we’ve been going three years might have been 2019. And, um, VET Tv has been going for a couple of years. And we were having the biggest Silkies Hike yet in San Diego in Oceanside, people coming from all over the country to Oceanside to experience this event. Some of them coming to see me specifically. I was also doing a stand-up comedy the night before, Friday night. I was doing a big stand up, my biggest crowd ever, biggest hike the next day. And, uh, I drank too much before my set. First half was okay. Second half was terrible. Then I blacked out. I remember vomiting, I just remember vomiting in the middle of a bar in Oceanside running to the bathroom. I woke up in a room with some chick. And I hadn’t done that in a while. And then I sleep in the next morning. I miss the beginning of the hike and I don’t even make it to the hike that hundreds of people from across the country were coming to. I didn’t even make it till noon. It started at 8. Maybe 11, 11:30. And that was one of the most embarrassing, shameful moments of my entire life. Without question, the most shameful life of my shameful moment of my professional career. And I lost the respect of hundreds of people. Hundreds, maybe even all 600 people who showed up. Maybe all of them. And I lost the respect of my staff.

John Berry: That’s got to be one lance corporal that said that. Donny O’Malley, Donny O’Malley. He knows how to party. You got, you got. There’s got to be some EM out there, lance corporal, that thinks you know, you’re a star because of that. But anyway.

Danny Maher: Dude, that guy didn’t show up to his own hike till 12. Legend.

John Berry: Exactly. Sorry. Go ahead. The staff. How you let. Let’s go back into the shame now. How you let the staff down. Yeah.

Danny Maher: Thank you, thank you. Um, I had, like, 20 full time staff at the time. And lost, I mean, had to be 90% of all their respect. Like it was gone. And, you know, building a company, as you know. Right. Like you’re close with your full time staff. And especially the way I was doing it because I was, I think I was the CEO at the time. Um, I stopped being CEO because I suck at being a CEO and I hate it. Um, but I had a lot of writer/directors like the filmmakers, and I was a leader of them. And so super close to them. Like we spent f***ing 12 hours a day together for years. They were. Everyone was like, dude, do we even want to work for this guy anymore? You know it was brutal shame. It was terrible. And I sat in my room for five days. No substances, no booze, no weed, and I just. I told myself, you are going to f***ing marinate in this. No phone calls, no chicks. Just sit and think. And at the end of that five days, I had finally accepted that every bad thing that had ever happened in my life was a result of alcohol. Every time I’d let myself down, let others down, hurt people, hurt myself physically, mentally, failed the test, missed the missed, failed the paper, you name it, it was all booze. And, um. And I realized that the reason I was drinking was because I was trying to tune out the thoughts of what other people think.

Danny Maher: I’m very as we you know, as I’ve said, as you know, I’m a very eccentric person. Right. Like I’m on all like I’m a f***ing psycho warrior. I’ll go f***ing smash skulls with a mace, but then I’ll go put on a two piece and go dance on a stage with a mixture of hip hop and ballet. You know, like I’m f***ing. I’m out there. And I’ve always been afraid of judgment because I am so eccentric. And um, and the alcohol helped me care about others’ judgment less. And I finally was like, that’s why. That’s why I’m drinking. That’s why I’m doing this. And I thought, okay, well, I have too much that I’m responsible for with this company and this nonprofit, right? I can never allow alcohol to f*** up my life like this so I can never get drunk again. And now I know why I’m drinking. And now I know that the feeling that I’m going for, I’m always chasing a feeling, the feeling is of freedom of expression. I’m trying to freely be me without worrying about somebody calling me the f word, right? I was where I was always worried about someone calling me gay or the f word. Because if they did, then I’d have to go fight him, right? Like that’s it had been like that for many years, right? Oh, that’s what you want to say to me, you better f***ing be ready to throw hands. And I fought, so I used to fight so much it was ridiculous when I was younger. Um, and I realized I had to let that go. 

And once I kind of accepted those things about myself, I was like, I can fix these things. I can fix it. And then I never drank. I mean, I’ve had, like, a drink because there’s nothing else. But I’ve never been drunk again. Never been buzzed again. Never really drank again. Ever since then. And that was my biggest failure as a leader of a company. A nonprofit of a f***ing hundreds of thousands of people. Massive, massive embarrassment. That failure, that pain. Shame. It led to me making the best decision of my life, which was to cut alcohol from my life, which then led to me constantly talking about what I just said right now about how alcohol affected my life with thousands of people at Silkies Hikes, with the leaders of the organization, which then led to a massive shift in the culture of the organization, from everyone’s chugging beers starting at 8 a.m. to whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s tone that down. Have a beer every now and then. But let’s not get f***ing hammered. Let’s not get blackout. Let’s understand why we’re doing this, and let’s try to find that same feeling that we’re looking for when we drink. Let’s find that feeling sober. We can find that feeling with the healthy environment. And so that shame led to one of the best things that could have ever happened to the organization, and to all the people who now drink less because of what we talk about now. So that’s one big leadership failure.

John Berry: Wow. Yeah. You may have got like 20 in there but awesome. Um. So yeah. So that might be enough self-deprecation for one episode. So, let’s talk about the great leadership.

Danny Maher: Ah I don’t know, man. I got 10,000 hours in leadership and I still don’t think I’m that sick.

John Berry: Well, yeah, but you’ve worked with some heroes.

Danny Maher: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

John Berry: So, give us an example of the leadership you observed from them.

Danny Maher: Uh, one of my platoon sergeants, um, at the time, Staff Sergeant Cab. Um, he, um, he put me in my place as a lieutenant multiple times, and he was a staff sergeant. And there were multiple times he would say things to me that no other staff sergeant would say to a lieutenant unless they were willing to be fired. And he was. He didn’t give a f***. And he also knew that he wouldn’t be fired because I already had a rep as a kind of, uh, crazy, lieutenant. And so he kind of figured that I’d be fired before him. And so, he said things to me that f***ing stung. He said one time he was like, I think you’re a f***ing frat boy. You’re f***ing arrogant. You think you think you’re God’s gift to the Infantry. You think you know it all and you don’t know sh**. You think you know how to run this platoon? You want to f***ing take charge of everything? You’re going to get Marines hurt. I don’t want to go to war with you. And I was like ooohhhhh. And then he walked. He’s like, if you want to fire me, I don’t give a f***. He’s like, I got way more important people on my FITREP than you. Peace. And he walked out and I’m like, whoa, I chased him down. I was like, yo yo yo yo, look. Thank you for saying that. I needed to hear that. That was good sh**. And he’s like, really? I said, honestly bro, that was a good sh**. That took balls and I needed to hear that. Thank you. I will humble myself to you. I will let you lead the platoon the way a platoon sergeant should, and I will allow you to mentor me the way a staff sergeant should mentor a lieutenant. And completely changed the dynamic of our relationship professionally and personally. And he’s been one of the most influential leaders I’ve ever known ever since.

And he had the f***ing balls to say that sh** to me. That right there I thought was awesome leadership because he was leading me, you know, leading the, I was a very arrogant lieutenant. I was a big guy. Cocky. Big personality. And he was able to check me and that was so important. So, there’s one. I’ll go with. I’ll do a two for one. Okay. Real quick. 

John Berry: Great. Let’s do it.

Danny Maher: And that would be, um, Cindy McNally and Nate McDonald, the President, and Vice President of Irreverent Warriors. Um, they are incredible human beings. Like, they could build anything if they really wanted to. And they have managed hundreds of volunteers all across the country who are working there, working for free. Right. Like Cindy and Nate, they were working for free for many years, but all the people underneath them were working for free. Right? And we think about the logistics of Irreverent Warriors. We’re talking about 65 to 80 events taking place in different cities, big events with between 100 and 600 veterans, you know, police escorts and businesses involved and uh, uh, truck organizations that are helping escort and logistics. It’s crazy. And they keep the organization moving with incredible tact and candor, right? They have to constantly have difficult conversations with people who are volunteers. Which is leading volunteers is so hard because, like, they don’t have to do what you say. They could leave any second. But at the same time, sometimes they, as leaders, need to let volunteers go. And that’s a horrible conversation. And they’ve kept hundreds of people fiercely loyal to them because their intentions are so pure. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. They have very candid, direct conversations with people on a constant basis. They don’t leave anything to text and emails. Any time something difficult needs to be said, it’s let’s hop on the phone, let’s hop on a zoom, let’s meet in person. And, um, I’m in awe because I haven’t done, I haven’t had any real leadership, operational leadership in Irreverent Warriors since like 2017, maybe 2016. Like, that’s a long time. It’s been other people who’ve been leading it, and it’s been mostly them since, I think 2018, when I made Cindy the president. And it’s one of the hardest jobs that I could imagine anyone does. Managing hundreds of volunteers from across the country who are bringing hundreds of veterans together. And, um, and they’ve done so with just an incredible amount of love, understanding, tact and candor. And um, and their impact, their effort is felt by everyone who’s been to a hike, everyone who’s been to a hike and said, I need thank you for creating this. I needed to feel that. Um, they’re the ones at the top making it happen. That’s it, it’s incredible. I couldn’t do what they do. I could not do it. I do not think I’m an idealist. Like I lead with ideas and don’t get me wrong, most of my ideas are sh**ty, but I’ve got a lot of ideas, and I got enough good ones that people latch on to the good ideas. And I bring a lot of energy and I like to pump people up. I see the goodness in people and sometimes the greatness. If I see it, I can bring it out of them. But other than that, you know, I’m not that sick. And I’m not that consistent.

John Berry: You’re a visionary. You’re a visionary. And you need the team to execute so that that is awesome. And you’ve mastered that. And sometimes being a visionary is just leading without fear and having faith that your team will see that vision through.

Danny Maher: Mhm. Yeah.

John Berry: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you for your vulnerability and your insights. Looking forward to the next book, which I thought I had it written down here. But is…

Danny Maher: “The Psyche of Some American Veterans”

John Berry: “The Psyche of Some American Veterans,” qualifying statement there because some.

Danny Maher: Not all.

John Berry: Not all. Well done. And finally, thanks for your thanks for your continued service.

Danny Maher: Thank you.

John Berry: For paying, I think I think for paying the dues that we should have paid to our junior enlisted to say we understand you, we understand what you’re going through. We understood it when we served with you, and we understand now. And for me, that’s something we’ve neglected to do. And I believe that may be one of the reasons for the mental health issues we have today is the feeling of that we’re not accepted, or that the junior enlisted that come, they feel like they’re not accepted, that they don’t have a tribe, that they don’t. The team is gone. And what they’re feeling now and what they’re thinking is all wrong, but they’re not alone. And thank you for ensuring that they don’t feel alone through your literary works, through your art, and through the hikes. Thank you so much, Danny.

Danny Maher: John, you’re awesome. Thank you so much for having me.

John Berry: Thank you for joining us today on Veteran Led, where we pursue our mission of promoting veteran leadership in business, strengthening the veteran community, and getting veterans all of the benefits that they earned. If you know a leader who should be on the Veteran Led podcast, report to our online community by searching @veteranled on your favorite social channels and posting in the comments, we want to hear how your military challenges prepared you to lead your industry or community, and we will let the world know. And of course, hit subscribe and join me next time on Veteran Led.

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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